Rob & Carl

Carl Oleson and Rob Johnston explain to their neighbors Annie and Kitty the significance of an October 2014 federal court ruling that resulted in Wyoming's recognition of their marriage. The Supreme Court ruled last week the 14th Amendment gives same-sex couples the right to marry anywhere in the U.S.

Wyoming’s seven-largest communities scored far below average on a national human rights organization’s review of LGBTQ protections released this week.

With an average score of 20, Wyoming’s municipalities ranked dead-last in the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Municipal Equality Index, with two communities – Rock Springs and Sheridan – receiving scores of zero. Only two communities, Jackson and Laramie, scored above a 50, however both still fell below the national average score of 58.

Regardless of the lagging performance, Sara Burlingame, executive director of Wyoming Equality, said the scores showed progress.

“That’s still huge movement for us,” she said.

The town of Jackson, which passed a non-discrimination ordinance this past year, lead the state with a score of 52. Other Wyoming municipalities evaluated were Laramie (51 points), Casper (11 points), Cheyenne (5 points) and Gillette (22 points).

“Wyoming’s motto is the Equality State and we got closer to living up to that this year when Jackson Hole became the second city to pass an NDO,” said Burlingame. “Churches, schools and neighbors mobilized this last year to help defeat bad bills. Cheyenne’s mayor, Marian Orr vowed to take the fight for non-discrimination to the state Legislature, and we stand behind her.”

While the “perfect” scores on the list were dominated by larger cities, two communities with populations under 25,000 people — Brookings, South Dakota (the home of South Dakota State University) and Ferndale, Michigan (a hip Detroit suburb) – also made the list.

The equality index rated not just the 50 state capitals and the 200 largest cities in America, but also the five largest cities or municipalities in each state and the homes of the state’s two largest public universities. Also included are 75 municipalities with high proportions of same-sex couples and 98 other cities selected by the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Federation state group members and supporters.

Each city was assessed on 49 distinct criteria, including whether or not they had implemented citywide nondiscrimination protections and policies for municipal employees, city services and law enforcement. Each city’s relationship with the LGBTQ community was also evaluated.

Cities with scores of zero were rare on the list, with just a dozen other cities and towns on the list. These included large cities like Laredo, Texas, a state capital in Pierre, South Dakota, and large university towns in Clemson, South Carolina and Stillwater, Oklahoma. Other towns to score a zero include Moore, Oklahoma; Cary, North Carolina; Great Falls, Montana; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Southaven, Mississippi; Lake Charles, Louisiana; North Druid Hills, Georgia and Ketchikan, Alaska.

The full report can be found here.

A look at Wyoming

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Diving into the details, Wyoming’s only communities to score near-average – Jackson and Laramie – benefitted from perfect scores under the nondiscrimination ordinance category, netting them 30 points each. With protections for discrimination in city employment – and a show of leadership on implementing pro-equality legislation – both municipalities earned some additional points to pad their scores.

Wyoming’s other communities, without a larger non-discrimination law in place, earned their points where they could get them.

Gillette, the third-highest scoring municipality in the state does not have a citywide non-discrimination law on the books. But it did receive points for its non-discrimination policy for city employees based on sexual orientation and for reporting its hate crime statistics to the FBI. The school district also has taken some steps to address youth bullying and has taken steps toward boosting suicide prevention efforts after the suicide of bullied teen Trevor O’Brien.

“They take that really serious in Gillette, and are doing a lot more to address that,” said Burlingame.

Cheyenne – almost exclusively due to the advocacy of Mayor Orr and members of its city council – won five points for its leadership on pro-equality policies, a category where Casper also won some points due to its recent efforts to pass its own non-discrimination policies.

All the scores by city are available to view here.

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Follow politics reporter Nick Reynolds on Twitter @IAmNickReynolds


Politics Reporter

Nick Reynolds covers state politics and policy. A native of Central New York, he has spent his career covering governments big and small, and several Congressional campaigns. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2015.

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